My day hadn’t been great even before she walked in.
I’d just returned from the funeral of my longtime bookkeeper. He’d died from old age in his sleep surrounded by his five kids, loving wife, and eighteen grandchildren while leaving me with a reconciliation mess and this month’s payroll to finish.
My newly trained bartender had sent a manifesto via text message, blaming his decision to quit on my unwillingness to build a dedicated meditation room and give him four paid half-hour breaks per shift to use it.
Three Diamond Whiskey bottles out of the six that had shipped from the distributor were broken in the crate. If you’re keeping score, that’s seven hundred dollars in Tennessee Whiskey and a crime against humanity.
On the plus side, the suit I’d worn to my parents’ funerals fit and I still looked damn good in it.
Of course, I didn’t know the newcomer was her at first. The door opened and closed, same sound as normal no matter who was coming or going. It was a Sunday mid-morning, still early yet for any of the dancers or bouncers and way too early for any customers.
But the moment she turned the corner and came into view, I gritted my teeth. Here we go. What could she want? She better not be selling Bibles.
“Charlotte.” Standing behind the bar, I crossed my arms and sounded unfriendly. She’d caught me restocking paper products and the three surviving bottles of Diamond Whiskey. I was only half finished with my current task, but nowhere near half finished with my task list for the day. I did not have time for pious Charlotte Mitchell.
As a rule, I had time for two types of folks: people I paid, and people who paid me. A small number of exceptions to this rule existed: a few friends from college and in town, like Beau Winston or Patty Lee, and any woman I’d set my mind on seducing, but even then, I made sure the scales remained balanced—give and take, tit for tat, even-steven. Point is, Charlotte was obviously not the former exception, and there was no way she’d ever be interested in becoming the latter.
“Hank.” She didn’t look at me, but she did paste on an obligatory-looking smile that pulled her full lips tight and came nowhere close to her green eyes. Tracking Charlotte Mitchell’s slow approach, I didn’t miss how she took her time and peered around.
I wanted to snark, “Lost? I believe the wallpaper and sanctimony store is closer to downtown.”
Instead, I ground out, “What do you want?”
He needs to get her out of his system. Just once...
Hank Weller doesn’t help people. He leaves that do-gooder nonsense to his best friend, Beau Winston. Hank does what he wants, when he wants, with whomever he wants—and Hank does not want to hire Charlotte Mitchell to be an exotic dancer at his club, The Pink Pony. Sure, he can’t help noticing the dips and curves of her, how shrewd, smart, and funny she is, the fire in her hazel eyes. He's always noticed. She’d probably draw a crowd and entice the regulars. But after Charlotte's messy, public divorce made Hank’s club out to be the culprit—and made her the single mother of four kids—he doesn’t need or want any additional bad press courtesy of Charlotte Mitchell. Or the distraction. Unfortunately for him, the town’s prettiest charity case doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of the words nope, no, and never.
Charlotte Mitchell doesn’t much like Hank Weller. Once upon a time, she used to. Years ago, she liked him a whole heckofalot despite other folks in town labeling him as “eccentric” and “nonconformist,” which were polite southern alternatives to "filthy rich" and "self-centered douchebag." Her opinion of him changed dramatically after he volunteered to be her date to junior prom and then promptly stood her up. They haven't so much as acknowledged each other in over a decade. But a sudden family emergency means Charlotte needs access to Hank’s club ASAP. Unfortunately for her, the narcissistic fancy-pants doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of the words help, generosity, and compassion.
But he’s about to find himself schooled. Charlotte is going to teach Hank a lesson once and for all about basic human decency, whether he likes it or not.
Spoiler alert. . . he likes it. ;-)
Penny Reid is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of the Winston Brothers and Knitting in the City series. She used to spend her days writing federal grant proposals as a biomedical researcher, but now she writes kissing books. Penny is an obsessive knitter and manages the #OwnVoices-focused mentorship incubator / publishing imprint, Smartypants Romance. She lives in Seattle Washington with her husband, three kids, and dog named Hazel.